Special Report

The Easiest (and Hardest) Jobs to Keep

139700757Although the U.S. unemployment rate has been steadily declining for some time, jobs remain scarce for many Americans. While some trades and skills remain in demand or carry the promise of strong job security, other jobs do not.

Chiropractors led the nation’s workforce with an unemployment rate of just 0.1% in 2014. The acting profession, on the other hand, had the worst job security last year with an unemployment rate of 32.7%.

Click here to see the easiest (and hardest) jobs to keep

Click here to see a full list of 2014 employment figures by occupation

The occupations with the lowest unemployment rates tended to require far more education, and employees were typically paid higher wages compared to less secure professions. Seven of the ten most secure professions required at least a bachelor’s degree, while others often required even more qualifications. All but two of the occupations with the lowest unemployment rates had median wages greater than $60,000 in 2012. Dentists and other medical professionals such as doctors and surgeons were frequently paid more than $150,000 in 2012.

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A strong job market for a particular profession is undoubtedly positive for those workers. Yet, such a trend may be short-lived. Farmers and postal service mail carriers, for example, had among the lowest unemployment rates. Yet, the two professions are projected shrink by 19.3% and 26.8% between 2012 and 2022, respectively. On the other side of the spectrum, insulation workers and construction trades were among the least secure occupations. However, the two professions are both expected to grow by more than 30%.

While the most secure occupations typically required high levels of education, the professions with the lowest job security tended to have few requirements, if any. In other words, a greater investment in job qualifications pays off in the form of consistent work.

Broader trends are critical in determining employment rates of specific jobs. The most secure professions include several medical occupations, which is likely due at least in part to the aging population of baby boomers, who increasingly require medical care as they age.

To identify the easiest and hardest jobs to keep, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed 2014 unemployment rates among workers in 564 occupations provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Workers are considered unemployed based on the job they held most recently. Occupations with an experienced labor force of less than 50,000 were not included. An experienced labor force excludes new entrants, or those entering the labor force for the first time. Estimated employment growth between 2012 and 2022, median 2012 wages, labor force totals, and typical education requirements for each job also came from the BLS. Compliance officers were excluded to narrow our list of occupations with the best job security to 10.

These are the professions with the best and worst job security.

The Easiest Jobs to Keep

10. Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers
> Unemployment rate, 2014: 1.0%
> Median annual pay, 2012: $69,300
> Employment change, 2012-2022: -19.3%

Only 1% of American farmers were unemployed last year, the 10th lowest unemployment rate among all occupations. Unlike many other professions, employment as a farmer may not guarantee economic stability. Nearly three-quarters of farmers were self-employed. And because farming equipment is expensive, and the overall investment necessary to be a farmer is very high, leaving the profession can be virtually impossible. The BLS forecasts a more than 19% decline in farming employment by 2022, one of only two low-unemployment professions where the BLS projected a decrease in employment.

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9. Postal service mail carriers
> Unemployment rate, 2014: 0.9% (tied-eighth highest)
> Median annual pay, 2012: $56,490
> Employment change, 2012-2022: -26.8%

Many Americans and businesses now favor email and other forms of electronic communication over snail mail — that is, delivery by the postal system. This partly explains the 26.8% projected decline in employment among mail carriers, one of the worst forecasts reviewed. Yet, less than 1% of postal workers were unemployed last year. Postal service mail carriers are clearly still largely indispensable to the transport of tangible items. It is also a major presence in the United States. The U.S. Postal Service handles 40% of all mail globally, and it employs one of the largest civilian workforces in the world. The U.S. Postal Service reported 2013 revenue of $67.3 billion, an increase from the year before. However, the USPS remains unprofitable, having posted a $5.3 billion operating loss in its latest fiscal year.

8. Speech-language pathologists
> Unemployment rate, 2014: 0.9% (tied-eighth highest)
> Median annual pay, 2012: $69,870
> Employment change, 2012-2022: 19.4%

As for most occupations with the lowest unemployment rates, speech-language pathologists had higher incomes than the median salary in most professions. A typical speech-language pathologist earned nearly $70,000 in 2012. Employment is also projected to grow by nearly 20% by 2022, one of the better growth rates reviewed. Speech pathologists address communication disorders in children and adults brought on by brain injury, developmental delay, emotional problems, and a range of other causes.

7. Detectives and criminal investigators
> Unemployment rate, 2014: 0.8%
> Median annual pay, 2012: $74,300
> Employment change, 2012-2022: 2.0%

The majority of detectives and criminal investigators are employed by local governments or the federal executive branch. The median income of detectives and investigators was $74,300 in 2012, among the higher figures reviewed. If a detective or investigator was employed by the federal government, she could likely make far more, with such employees frequently earning more than $100,000 annually as of 2012. While high levels of education are often a requirement for professions with the lowest unemployment rates,
detectives and investigators are typically only required to have a high school diploma in addition to law enforcement experience.

6. Medical, dental, and ophthalmic laboratory technicians
> Unemployment rate, 2014: 0.4% (tied-5th highest)
> Median annual pay, 2012: $33,070
> Employment change, 2012-2022: 6.7%

Medical and dental technicians service and help make a range of prosthetics and appliances, such as dentures, dental crowns, and eyeglasses. Unlike most of the relatively secure professions, such technicians are not typically highly educated, and they are paid far less than most Americans. The median pay of medical and dental laboratory technicians was just $33,070 in 2012, one of the lower incomes reviewed. The profession is projected to grow, albeit slowly, with the BLS estimating a 6.7% growth between 2012 and 2022. Still, the unemployment rate among workers in the profession is among the lowest. As is the case with other medical professions, the low unemployment rate among laboratory technicians is likely due in part to growing demand for medical services, particularly among the aging baby boomer generation.

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5. Physicians and surgeons
> Unemployment rate, 2014: 0.4% (tied-5th highest)
> Median annual pay, 2012: Greater than $187,200
> Employment change, 2012-2022: 17.8%

Less than 0.5% of physicians and surgeons were unemployed last year, a lower rate than for the vast majority of occupations. The BLS also forecasts the number of physicians and surgeons to grow by 17.8% by 2022, one of the faster growth rates reviewed. The large and aging baby boomer population partly explains this growth trend. The requirements for Physicians and surgeons typically include education and training that span more than a decade and that can be very demanding. Physicians and surgeons examine, counsel, and perform procedures on patients with physical injuries and diseases. Those employed in the occupation are also well compensated, with a median pay of more than $187,000 in 2012, one of the highest earnings.

4. Aerospace engineers
> Unemployment rate, 2014: 0.3%
> Median annual pay, 2012: $103,720
> Employment change, 2012-2022: 7.3%

Aerospace engineers were frequently paid six-figure salaries in 2012.. Because many of those employed in this occupation work on national defense projects, prospective employees are also often heavily screened and require security clearances. Most aerospace workers do not work for the government, however. Aerospace products and parts manufacturing employed 38% of workers, more than any other sector. While the profession is expected to grow 7.3% by 2022, slower than the average growth rate across all occupations, airplane and parts manufacturing is among America’s most robust industries. Plane routes and fleets are perhaps at capacity, but demand for new planes is still very high. For example, Boeing — a global leader in airplane manufacturing — reported a backlog of nearly $500 billion, with roughly 5,500 commercial airplane orders.

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3. Physician assistants
> Unemployment rate, 2014: 0.2% (tied-2nd highest)
> Median annual pay, 2012: $90,930
> Employment change, 2012-2022: 38.4%

Physician assistants perform a range of duties that also vary considerably by location. In more rural areas where there are considerably less doctors, for example, assistants may perform many tasks ordinarily performed by physicians. In general, however, physician assistants perform routine procedures such as setting broken bones, drawing blood, and taking x-rays. Additionally, physician assistants often work closely with patients, recording their progress, counseling them, and providing treatment. A typical physician assistant was paid nearly $91,000 in 2012, and employment is expected to grow by 38.4% by 2022, both nearly the highest figures reviewed.

2. Dentists
> Unemployment rate, 2014: 0.2% (tied-2nd highest)
> Median annual pay, 2012: $149,310
> Employment change, 2012-2022: 15.9%

In addition to a bachelor’s degree, dentists must attend dental school, followed by a one- to two-year residency. To practice, dentists must also receive a state administered license. Most dentists are generalists, but many are orthodontists, endodontists, or specialize in other fields such as pediatrics, pathology, and public health. The median income of dentists was nearly $150,000 in 2012, one of the highest incomes compared to every other occupation. The BLS also projects employment in the field to grow nearly 16% by 2022, also among the higher rates.

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1. Chiropractors
> Unemployment rate, 2014: 0.1%
> Median annual pay, 2012: $66,160
> Employment change, 2012-2022: 14.6%

Just one in every 1,000 chiropractors was unemployed last year, the lowest figure among all occupations reviewed by the BLS. Chiropractors are required to complete a Doctor of Chiropractic degree, and they often seek additional professional degrees. Chiropractors typically take a more holistic approach to health, as they consider the entire entire body and state of a patient’s health. Chiropractic methods vary widely but share a drug-free approach by which musculoskeletal and nervous system disorders are addressed with manual manipulations of the body. According to the American Chiropractic Association, there is also a growing trend towards specialization and advanced training in the field. The median income of chiropractors was $66,160 in 2012, and employment is projected to grow nearly 15% by 2022, both among the higher figures reviewed.

The Hardest Jobs to Keep

10. Tax preparers
> Unemployment rate, 2014: 13.5%
> Median annual pay, 2012: $33,730
> Employment change, 2012-2022: 9.9%

With few things considered more certain than taxes, the high unemployment rate of 13.5% among tax preparers last year may be surprising to some. This was the 10th highest figure among all occupations. The high unemployment could be due to the seasonal nature of tax filings, as Americans’ individual tax returns are usually completed in April. While tax preparers may work in a variety of fields, the vast majority are employed in bookkeeping, tax preparation, accounting, and payroll services. As in most professions with high unemployment rates, tax preparers are not paid especially well. The median income was less than $34,000 in 2012, one of the lower incomes reviewed. Yet, employment is expected to grow nearly 10% by 2022, slightly better than the average growth rate for all occupations.

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9. Hand packers and packagers
> Unemployment rate, 2014: 13.8%
> Median annual pay, 2012: $19,910
> Employment change, 2012-2022: 6.0%

Nearly 14% of packers and packagers, such as baggers at grocery stores and movers or hand laborers, were unemployed in 2014. Like other professions with high unemployment rates, packers and packagers receive relatively low pay and the job does not require a great deal of education. The median pay of such workers was less than $20,000 in 2012, among the lowest reviewed. According to the BLS, less than a high school diploma was necessary to enter the profession. A portion of workers were likely quite young and perhaps still in high school. However, the BLS excludes part-time and inexperienced workers in its unemployment figure. The high turnover rate among these laborers was likely the largest contributor to the profession’s high unemployment figure.

8. Dishwashers
> Unemployment rate, 2014: 14.0%
> Median annual pay, 2012: $18,460
> Employment change, 2012-2022: 6.2%

Dishwashers can be found at virtually any place where food is served, and they typically receive among the lowest compensation of any profession. The median annual income of dishwashers was just $18,460 in 2012. As in other professions, particularly those involving manual labor, there are no special requirements to become a dishwasher. Because of these few qualifications, becoming a dishwasher is relatively easy. The turnover rate, however, is extremely high.

7. Structural iron and steel workers
> Unemployment rate, 2014: 14.9%
> Median annual pay, 2012: $46,140
> Employment change, 2012-2022: 21.8%

While structural iron and steel workers do not make considerably more than most Americans, they tend to make more than most workers in professions with high unemployment rates. Laborers in the profession usually work on large commercial construction projects and perform often risky and physically demanding work. The median income among such workers was $46,140 in 2012. The relatively high pay is likely compensation for the job hazards, as muscle strains, cuts, and even deaths are not uncommon. Also, while nearly 15% of iron and steel workers were unemployed last year, the profession is expected to grow by nearly 22% between 2012 and 2022, much faster than the average across all occupations. Aging infrastructure, which will likely be repaired using state funds, is a major driver of the growth, according to the BLS.

6. Refuse and recyclable material collectors
> Unemployment rate, 2014: 15.6%
> Median annual pay, 2012: $32,930
> Employment change, 2012-2022: 16.2%

According to a 2009 study by the Environmental Protection Agency, overall waste generation has increased substantially, and recycling has become increasingly more common. Perhaps as a result, jobs for refuse and recyclable collectors are expected to grow 16.2% by 2022, one of the highest growth rates of any occupation. The supply of workers, however, still far exceeded available jobs, as 15.6% of workers in the profession were unemployed last year. Among those who were employed, the median income was $32,930 in 2012. While becoming a material collectors typically requires a high school diploma or less, they often need to be certified to handle heavy equipment such as garbage trucks.

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5. Insulation workers
> Unemployment rate, 2014: 17.5%
> Median annual pay, 2012: $35,940
> Employment change, 2012-2022: 37.6%

Similar to a number of other construction trades, employment among insulation workers is expected to grow substantially in coming years. By 2022, the BLS expects the profession to grow by nearly 38%, more than all but three other occupations reviewed. Insulation workers were not paid high incomes relative to most Americans. However, the median annual incomes of nearly $36,000 among such workers in 2012 was higher than wages in most other professions with high unemployment rates. The hazards of insulation work can be largely avoided, but the job is more dangerous than many other professions, which may account in part for the slightly higher wages.

4. Graders and sorters, agricultural products
> Unemployment rate, 2014: 17.9%
> Median annual pay, 2012: $19,150
> Employment change, 2012-2022: -2.0%

Graders and sorters of agricultural products, examine unprocessed food and other agricultural products to grade, sort and classify them by certain characteristics. Although employment projections for 2022 are not meaningfully linked to 2014 unemployment rates among occupations, graders and sorters had low prospects by both measures. While the majority of occupations are expected to grow at least modestly, the grading and sorting profession will shrink by 2%, according to BLS projections. As with the majority of professions with poor job security, agricultural product sorters are also paid relatively low wages. The median income among workers in the profession was less than $20,000 in 2012, among the lower incomes of any profession.

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3. Helpers, construction trades
> Unemployment rate, 2014: 20.2%
> Median annual pay, 2012: $26,570
> Employment change, 2012-2022: 30.6%

More than one in five experienced helpers and workers in construction trades were unemployed last year, the third highest unemployment rate among all occupations. However, the profession is expected to grow by nearly 31% by 2022, one of the highest growth rates reviewed. The optimism is due in part to the country’s aging infrastructure, which will need to be repaired, according to the BLS. Such construction workers still received relatively low wages. A typical laborer in the profession earned $26,570 in 2012, one of the lowest incomes reviewed. Construction employment is likely more closely tied to economic conditions than other professions. Housing projects, for example, fell dramatically during the mortgage crisis. Construction trades in many areas across the country are still recovering.

2. Telemarketers
> Unemployment rate, 2014: 21.8%
> Median annual pay, 2012: $22,330
> Employment change, 2012-2022: 7.7%

As is the case with several other professions with low job security, telemarketers typically work under intense pressure. Earnings in the profession are usually closely tied to job performance in the form of commissions and sales incentives. Job pressure may partly explain the poor perception many Americans have of telemarketers. When asked to rate honest and ethical standards among workers in a range of professions, people had some of the worst opinions of telemarketers, according to a Gallup poll. Telemarketers also earn relatively low wages, with a median income of $22,330 in 2012, one of the lowest incomes reviewed.

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1. Actors
> Unemployment rate, 2014: 32.7%
> Median annual pay, 2012: N/A
> Employment change, 2012-2022: 4.1%

With the rise in digital devices usage in recent years, the consumption of performing arts media, and the demand for actors, are on the rise. Yet, there are still far more actors than are needed. Nearly one-third of professional actors were unemployed in 2013, by far the highest rate among all occupations reviewed. Many actors receive qualification through education, while others succeed without any formal training. As the skills and knowledge necessary for a particular role often vary widely between jobs, actors usually continue to train and hone their skills over the entire course of their careers. Lifelong learning is perhaps more important for actors than for those in other professions, because one acting job will not necessarily lead to another. The low job security in the acting profession further explains the remarkably high unemployment rate among professional actors.

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